After these things the word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, ‘Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great.’”
Genesis 15 begins with an appearance of God to Abram. The first thing God says to Abram is, “Do not be afraid.” This short imperative appears throughout Scripture. Sometimes this command is spoken by an angel to an individual (Mary, Luke 1:30), by Jesus to his new disciples (Luke 5:10), or by God to his people through a prophet (Isaiah 41:10). Fear is a normal human emotion and there are times when it is wise to be afraid (for example, when you’re being chased by a lion). But God does not want us to be afraid of him, his power, and his ways.
As we examine Genesis 15:1, we might wonder why Abram might be afraid such that God needs to say “Do not be afraid.” After all, in Genesis 14 he fought a battle in which his life was at stake. Yet there is no mention of fear in that chapter. So why does God begin chapter 15 with “Do not be afraid.”
One possibility is that Abram might fear God’s own presence. We don’t know exactly what Abram saw in his vision, but if it was some dramatic representation of God, something that conveyed God’s power, glory, and holiness, then fear would be an understandable response.
Another possible reason for Abram’s fear is revealed in Genesis 15:2. Immediately after being told by God not to be afraid, Abram says, “O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus [Abram’s slave]?” God promised to Abram that he would be the source of a great nation (12:2). Yet this promise seems not to be fulfilled since Abram has no natural heir. He is afraid that God will not keep his word. Abram is afraid that he has trusted God for naught.
Can you relate to this fear? I can as I put myself into Abram’s shoes. He’s a childless, elderly man with a childless, elderly wife. Once Abram had trusted God to make him fruitful, but now that seems impossible. I can understand why Abram would fear that his hope would not pan out, that God’s promise to him would remain unfulfilled.
So then, why should Abram be unafraid? Not just because God says so. God also offers comfort (“I am your shield”) and hope (“your reward shall be very great”). Yet, these promises are reassuring only because God offers himself to Abram. Ironically, the very thing that contributes to Abram’s fear – God’s awesome presence – is the same thing that reduces his fear.
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:
Can you think of times in your life when you’ve been afraid and when you’ve sensed God saying to you “Do not be afraid?”
What helps you to trust God even when things are not turning out as you had hoped and expected?
Gracious God, today, I hear your call to Abram as if it were spoken to me: “Do not be afraid!” Help me, Lord, to trust you and in that trust to lose my fear. May I trust you with my work and my health, with my family and my finances, with my present and my future. May I trust you to be faithful as I follow you. May I trust you to fulfill your promises, even when I can’t see you at work.
Today, Lord, may I live with confidence in you and therefore with freedom from fear. Amen.
Photo Credit: CristoreiPortugal by Magnusha – Own work. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.